Ferguson: Police Are Out of Control

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Obama Administration

From where I grew up St. Louis was the nearest city. After moving away I often told people I grew up “near St. Louis” even though it wasn’t that near, actually. It’s just that St. Louis was the closest place to where I grew up anyone who isn’t from there has heard of.

It’s been many years since I’ve been in downtown St. Louis or seen any part of St. Louis County other than the airport, so I can’t say I know it at all any more. But I can’t say I’m surprised at what’s happening in Ferguson. I imagine it’s the worst of a lot of worlds — a community still suffering from the lingering effects of Jim Crow and unequal opportunity; a police force with big city equipment and rural southern sensibilities. In the Heat of the Night meets Robocop.

And now the cops are out of control. I’m sure that’s not how a lot of people see it, but that’s how I see it. Joan Walsh writes,

“This looks like a textbook case of what not to do,” Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund told Lawrence O’Donnell.

On the 49th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, it’s important to remember that the famous Kerner Commission established to look at 1960s urban upheavals found that virtually every “riot” was triggered by police brutality – and that has continued in our own time, from the so-called “Rodney King riots” in 1992 through today. On MSNBC Ifill indicted the failures of police training and culture that led not only to the killing of Michael Brown, but also the overreaction to every night of protests.

But Ifill also made the important point that the militarization of the Ferguson police is something entirely new and enormously disturbing. The images Wednesday night should wake all of us up to the alarming militarization of local cops all over the country. How did a local police department get tanks and trucks and body armor that look like it all was designed for the streets of Baghdad and not a little city outside St. Louis?

As Walsh says, political leadership seems entirely absent, and the out-of-control cops are arresting reporters guilty of charging up their laptops at a McDonald’s. Yep, this should wake all of us up. Probably won’t, though.

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Justice Delayed

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Obama Administration

Yesterday a 25-year-old African American man identified as Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the Los Angeles Police Department. His family says he was shot in the back while complying with police orders.

Ferguson, Missouri is still on edge after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, also African American, who was shot by Ferguson police for reasons that are under dispute. Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, 22, was an eyewitness and said Brown was shot after he had put his hands up. Johnson also disputes the police version of the incident, that says Brown had grabbed for the police officer’s weapon. No one in law enforcement bothered to take a statement from Johnson until today.

Here in New York, it’s been three weeks since Eric Garner died of a chokehold administered by police. On August 1, the medical examiner declared that the death was a homicide. The district attorney will still not say if any further action will be taken. At least in New York, the Mayor is not making excuses for the police.

We do seem to have a problem here, don’t we?

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Democracy’s Self-Destruct Button?

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Obama Administration

There’s a Taoist view that all compounded things carry within themselves the seeds of their own self-destruction. This is a fancy way of saying what goes up must come down, with the understanding that the ultimate cause of the coming down is intrinsic to the going up. I can’t say whether that’s always true, but it’s an interesting point to contemplate.

Americans value free speech. It’s one of the things people across the political spectrum agree on, or say they do. We may disagree on what constitutes actual censorship or whether speech should be free from consequences, but we all value the right of individuals to say any damnfool thing they want, by any means, as long as they aren’t disturbing the peace or somehow putting people in danger — shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, for example.

Political campaign advertisements have never been famous for candor or veracity. But it seems to me we’ve hit a perfect storm of circumstances in which our cherished value of free speech could be our undoing. Citizens United; extreme wealth concentrated in the hands of a few people with extreme views and no scruples; Fox News; media technology that quickly spreads unfiltered disinformation to targeted audiences — these things have contributed to an unprecedented corruption of political discourse.

Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” These days lies can circle the globe several times while stealing truth’s shoes and putting a bag over truth’s head.

And it appears we’re helpless to do anything about it. For example, Ohio has a False Statement Law that makes it a crime to knowingly or recklessly make false statements about a political candidate. In 2010 the right-wing anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List tried to run ads saying Democrat Rep. Steven Driehaus, running for re-election, supported “taxpayer-funded abortions” because he voted for Obamacare. And, of course, the ACA doesn’t provide tax funds for abortions, so that’s a lie. The Susan B. Anthony List sued the state for interfering with its members’ rights to free speech, and this spring the SCOTUS ruled that SBA had standing to sue. The ACLU itself filed an amici brief supporting SBA’s position. SBA may eventually lose the suit, but I wouldn’t count on it. Driehaus lost the election, btw.

And I’m saying our system of government is being choked to death by untrammeled “free speech.”

Paul Krugman brought up another example. Respected climate scientist Michael Mann published scientific findings the Right found inconvenient. But since they couldn’t dispute the science fair and square, they initiated a lie campaign aiming to smear and discredit Mann any way they could.

Mann, as some of you may know, is a hard-working scientist who used indirect evidence from tree rings and ice cores in an attempt to create a long-run climate record. His result was the famous “hockey stick” of sharply rising temperatures in the age of industrialization and fossil fuel consumption. His reward for that hard work was not simply assertions that he was wrong — which he wasn’t — but a concerted effort to destroy his life and career with accusations of professional malpractice, involving the usual suspects on the right but also public officials, like the former Attorney General of Virginia.

National Review columnist Mark Steyn was doing a particularly rigorous job smearing Michael Mann. But Mann filed a defamation lawsuit against Steyn, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I’m not completely up to speed on all the twists and turns this suit has taken, but D.R. Tucker writes that National Review appears to be getting nervous it might lose. NR originally defended itself by presenting the court with the fraudulent arguments against Mann, which were easily and objectively shown to be lies. Now NR is backpedaling and saying they never claimed Mann’s findings were scientifically fraudulent, although they did, and that Steyn and NR had used the word “fraudulent” to mean something other than, you know, fraud. NR’s legal team appears desperate to avoid going to trial at all.

The Right continue to paint Michael Mann as hysterical and over-sensitive because he was upset that powerful forces colluded to destroy his career and discredit his life’s work. Yesterday Steyn filed an amicus brief in support of neither party — I didn’t know you could do that; doesn’t sound very amicus to me — that I have not read all the way through, but it appears to be arguing that all this legal stuff is crimping Steyn’s style and he wants them to get it over with already. Poor baby.

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Robin Williams, 1951-2014

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Obama Administration

Damn.

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Vanity Foreign Policy

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Iraq War, Obama Administration

Anyone who thinks a President Hillary Clinton would be less of a hawk than was Senator Hillary Clinton might want to take a look at Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview of her. Yeah, I know, its Jeffrey Goldberg. And a lot of what HRC is saying here is obvious pre-campaign posturing and not necessarily what she really thinks. As Betty Cracker wrote,

That said, my major concern about HRC is her hawkishness. That’s why I supported Obama instead of HRC back in 2008 — he recognized the Iraq War as “stupid shit” from the beginning; she didn’t.

The remark highlighted above doesn’t tell us much about Clinton’s organizing principles. When Goldberg questioned her directly on it, her response was “peace, progress and prosperity,” which could have come from a Miss World pageant script.

Like I said, pre-campaign posturing. She’s creating some space between herself and the Obama Administration she served as Secretary of State.

Digby wrote of the interview, “This is a very scary interview. Much more hardcore than I expected.” I don’t know what to expect from HRC, but she seems to be staying in what is (to her) familiar hawkish territory, so that her opponents can’t attack her for being some kind of leftie peacenik. This ought to tell us that we can’t assume she’s not the same HRC of 2002 who voted for the Iraq war resolution.

Goldberg also wrote,

Much of my conversation with Clinton focused on the Gaza war. She offered a vociferous defense of Israel, and of its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well. This is noteworthy because, as secretary of state, she spent a lot of time yelling at Netanyahu on the administration’s behalf over Israel’s West Bank settlement policy. Now, she is leaving no daylight at all between the Israelis and herself.

“I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets,” she told me. “Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult.”

I so hope she’s not the nominee in 2016.

HRC’s prime criticism of the Obama Administration is that the current crisis in Iraq arose because the U.S. did not do enough to support Syrian rebels. However, via Booman, Patrick Cockburn makes a strong argument that just the opposite is true. HRC says that events in Syria would have turned out differently had we done more to support Syrian moderates and work with our regional allies. Cockburn pretty much says that’s a fantasy.

The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This doesn’t mean the jihadis didn’t have strong indigenous roots, but their rise was crucially supported by outside Sunni powers. The Saudi and Qatari aid was primarily financial, usually through private donations, which Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, says were central to the Isis takeover of Sunni provinces in northern Iraq: ‘Such things do not happen spontaneously.’ In a speech in London in July, he said the Saudi policy towards jihadis has two contradictory motives: fear of jihadis operating within Saudi Arabia, and a desire to use them against Shia powers abroad. He said the Saudis are ‘deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shiadom’. It’s unlikely the Sunni community as a whole in Iraq would have lined up behind Isis without the support Saudi Arabia gave directly or indirectly to many Sunni movements. The same is true of Syria, where Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington and head of Saudi intelligence from 2012 to February 2014, was doing everything he could to back the jihadi opposition until his dismissal. Fearful of what they’ve helped create, the Saudis are now veering in the other direction, arresting jihadi volunteers rather than turning a blind eye as they go to Syria and Iraq, but it may be too late.

I’ve been saying that the Saudi monarchy can’t possibly want ISIS to keep getting stronger, because eventually it will come after them.

But if you read nothing else today (beside this post) be sure it’s U.S. Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel in the New York Times. And let us be clear which U.S. actions we’re talking about. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was radicalized during the American occupation of Iraq during the Bush Administration. U.S. forces actually picked him up with other jihadists in 2004, although there is disagreement whether he was released or kept in detention.

At every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.

In other words, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is George W. Bush’s war baby.

Finally, we come to that other morass of shameless pandering known as Sen. Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) doesn’t think the public has been sufficiently frightened about what is going on in the Middle East. On Sunday, he urged President Barack Obama to give a speech warning Americans that the United States faces a possible terrorist attack from Iraq or Syria.

Speaking to host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Graham repeatedly insisted on addressing his answers to Obama instead.

“So Mr. President, you have never once spoken directly to the American people about the threat we face from being attacked from Syria, now Iraq. What is your strategy to stop these people from attacking the homeland? They have expressed a desire to do so,” he said.

No one with any actual knowledge of what’s going on in the Middle East thinks “these people” are capable of “attacking the homeland,” even if they have expressed a desire to do so. “Expressing a desire” and “capability” are two things our adventures in Iraq ought to have taught us to be clear about, since the current threat happened because the Bush Administration insisted Saddam Hussein was a direct threat to the United States at a time when there was actually not much left of him but bluff and bluster.

In short, if we hadn’t let the Bushies frighten us into invading Iraq we wouldn’t be talking about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi now. And I suspect Lindsey Graham is bright enough to know that. But like many other righties he has built his political career on bluff and bluster, so if he wants to keep his job he’s got to keep fanning the flames.

And wouldn’t it be nice if our foreign policy could be based on something beside shameless pandering and posturing to gain election advantage at home? If it could be based on, you know, what is actually true of those troublesome foreign places? This may be representative democracy’s greatest weakness — it’s easier to get elected by stoking ignorance than by being honest.

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Somewhat Reassuring

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Obama Administration

I usually would rather have  dental work than read Tom Friedman’s column. But this time he interviewed President Obama, and I liked this part:

Obama made clear that he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished. The United States is not going to be the air force of Iraqi Shiites or any other faction.

No victor/no vanquished almost sounds Zen.

At the end of the day, the president mused, the biggest threat to America — the only force that can really weaken us — is us. We have so many things going for us right now as a country — from new energy resources to innovation to a growing economy — but, he said, we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.

However, as I explained in the last post, this can’t happen. Too bad.

Juan Cole’s assessment of the bombing in Iraq is that ISIS was about to overrun Irbil, which has a U.S. consulate, and he’s trying to avoid another Benghazi!®. William Saletan (yeah, I know, it’s William Saletan) wrote,

War-weary critics say Obama’s intervention will lead to all-out American military engagement. Hawks protest that he has no vision and that his limited intervention won’t defeat ISIS. Both sides complain that he has no end game.

They’re wrong. Military intervention doesn’t have to fit into a strategy for military victory. It can make sense on more modest terms, as part of a larger political process that is moving in the right direction and is driven by other players. When miscreants such as ISIS endanger that process, a timely use of force can contain the damage and preserve the momentum. We don’t have to wage a larger war in Iraq.

He then presents ten reasons why the bombing in Iraq will not turn into a wider war, and I have no idea whether Saletan knows what he’s talking about. Combined with the interview, though, I don’t believe the President will get us sucked into Iraq War II.

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Why Nothing Will Change

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economy, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Going back to my post of a couple of days ago, on the S&P report on income inequality — There have been some more reactions to this. Basically, from the Left we’re hearing “Duh. What we said.” And from the Right it’s “[denial].” So, as usual, people believe what they want to believe, facts be damned.

One progressive reaction is at The Daily Beast, of all places, by Monica Potts, titled “The Big, Long, 30-Year Conservative Lie.” Potts concludes [emphasis added]:

Closing the gap by lifting low-income families out of poverty could do more to help the economy than any number of tax credits for “job creators” might, which is what Hanauer argued in Politico. And the S&P report puts more support in his corner.

On the question of what to do, there is widespread agreement on boosting educational attainment and increasing salaries at the bottom end. Policymakers have had a lot of time to think about how to help the middle class, since real wages began declining in the mid-1970s. Many of the problems of inequality have policy solutions ready to go, spelled out in a white paper stuffed in someone’s desk drawer. Why has it taken so long to think about addressing it? Was the political might of the right so overwhelming that they couldn’t speak up until people like Hanauer saw, as he warned in his essay, that the pitchforks would be coming for them?

The answer to Potts’s questions are in the several hundred comments, the bulk of which read like this one:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Similarly, we can provide opportunity, but you can’t make folks take advantage. So instead you have massive government welfare programs designed to redistribute the earnings of hard-workers to those who prefer the outcome be guaranteed for them with zero effort.. This way, we try to even outcomes. Maybe the inequality gap is growing because, when government incents folks to avail themselves of government largesse, folks lose ambition. Meanwhile, ambitious workers keep earning, and the gap grows.

Never mind that this entire line of argument was directly demolished in the S&P report. At this point, the Right cannot change.They’ve spent more than 30 years brainwashing Americans to believe what the commenter above believes — poor people are just lazy government moochers, and anyone can get rich if they just work hard enough, and if we can just cut taxes for job creators a bit more everything will be fine. And this is what the Republican base wants to hear, facts be damned. Any Republican who even gives off the appearance of being soft on moochers is asking to be primaried by some foaming-at-the-mouth bagger.

And, of course, much of their support is coming from the infrastructure of  “think tanks” and astroturf organizations funded by a relative handful of right-wing family trusts like the Koch Boys and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, many of which can be traced back to the old John Birch Society. But these are the people with the money bags and the influence. So …

The best Republican politicians can do is make speeches laced with buzzwords that suggest they understand the problem while proposing policies that wouldn’t actually fix it. Paul Ryan is particularly good at this, or at least, he’s gotten away with it so far.

Paul Krugman also hopes people pay attention to the S&P report.  He points out that the factors that cause an economy to grow or shrink are not as simple as just moving dollars around, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Programs like food stamps that provide nutrition support for poor children lead to healthier poor children and a more productive workforce in the long run, for example.

Not that anyone on the Right gives a hoo-haw about healthier poor children. Even the “this benefits you too” arguments fall flat because they require comprehending complex dynamic influences on economic growth, and a standard characteristic of righties is that they are stuck in simplistic and rigidly literal thinking. You might as well explain physics to a toaster, in other words. So ten thousand S&P reports won’t change anything.

Related: Timothy Egan writes about wildfires in Washington State: “People who hate government most are the loudest voices demanding government action to save their homes.”

Smart foresters had been warning for years that climate change, drought and stress would lead to bigger, longer, hotter wildfires. They offered remedies, some costly, some symbolic. We did nothing. We chose to wait until the fires were burning down our homes, and then demanded instant relief.

As a nation, we have lost the ability to actually do anything about anything, except to attempt to put out fires.

The nation that built an interstate highway system, and cleaned up its filthiest rivers and most gasp-inducing air, has become openly hostile to long-term investment or problem-solving, says Paul Roberts in “The Impulse Society — America in the Age of Instant Gratification,” a cautionary tale to be published next month.

“We can make great plasma screens and seat warmers and teeth whiteners and apps that will guide you, turn by turn, to the nearest edgy martini bar,” writes Roberts. “But when it comes to, say, dealing with climate change, or reforming the financial system, or fixing health care, or some other large-scale problem out in the real world, we have little idea where to start.”

And they can’t change, because tribal loyalty to ideology — which I write about in the book — trumps actual evidence and reasoning. Apparently even watching their own homes burn doesn’t wake people up to realizing why there’s a fire.

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Governing Is Hard

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Obama Administration

Juan Cole provides some perspective on the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, adding,

Obama’s hope that the so-called “Islamic State” can be stopped by US air power is likely forlorn. The IS is a guerrilla force, not a conventional army.

But one thing is certain. A US-policed no fly zone or no go zone over Iraqi Kurdistan is a commitment that cannot easily be withdrawn and could last decades, embroiling the US in further conflict.

Much of the old Chickenhawk Brigade is clucking that this proves they are vindicated! Flaming worthless idiot Paul Wolfowitz actually is claiming the U.S. won the Iraq War in 2009. I by “winning” you mean “conceding that further action is pointless and we will now extricate ourselves ourselves in a gradual manner” is “winning,” well, okay. By those standards we sort of won the Vietnam War, too.

The Chickenhawks also are doing their usual song and dance about how liberals don’t understand evil, and that people like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will never stop and will come after the U.S. sooner or later, so we need to destroy him now.

Here’s some background on what might be fueling Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. See also “The Debacle of the Caliphates: Why al-Baghdadi’s Grandiosity doesn’t Matter.” Bottom line, the certainly is a nasty piece of work. Whether he could export his movement beyond Iraq is highly speculative, however.

What the Chickenhawks don’t get is that U.S. bombs aren’t the answer to all problems, and indeed, usually just cause more problems. That doesn’t mean letting a bunch of civilians die of thirst and starvation is the answer, either. The world is a messy place. Sometimes there are no actual solutions. You gotta do what you gotta do.

But in Real World Land there are all kinds of powers beside Paul Wolfowitz and Hugh Hewitt who are keenly interested in keeping Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi contained, if not eliminated. Iran is one. I strongly suspect the Sunni leaders of other countries see a whackjob who thinks he leads a “Caliphate” is not their friend, either. Juan Cole thinks the “Caliphate” is doomed.

So it seems to me the question is not whether the U.S. will do nothing about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or will unilaterally wage war on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The question is whether we might take smart action or stupid action. Seems to me the smart thing to do would be to contact the heads of other Muslim countries — even Iran, IMO — and say, tell us if you need help getting rid of this guy, but you have to take the lead on this. This has to be the Islamic world’s issue, not America’s.

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When Facts Don’t Matter

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elections

File this under “Lies Speak Louder Than Facts.” A professor at Loyola University has been looking at elections going back to 2000 for actual incidents of the sort of voter fraud that would have been stopped by voter ID laws.

So far, he says, out of more than a billion ballots he has found all of 31 examples.

Arguments for voter ID laws use misdirection, the professor says, by citing examples of voter fraud that would not have been stopped by voter ID laws.

Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. …

…Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.

But of course, these facts won’t make a damn bit of difference in our ongoing political discourse, in which all elections won by Democrats are assumed to be illegitimate by the Right. And it especially won’t matter because the people pushing voter ID laws don’t give a hoo-haw about clean and fair elections. They just want to be sure that the majority of people who are able to vote are white and Right.

See also Proof That Voter Impersonation Almost Never Happens and Missing the Point at the Times.

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Even Big Business Sees the Problem of Income Inequality

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economy

I’m no economist. What I know about economics I got from a long-ago econ 101 college course I don’t actually remember, except that I know I took it, and reading Paul Krugman’s column. But it just makes intuitive sense to me that widespread income inequality chokes off economic growth. When a growing percentage of the population is just squeaking by, or not even that, then a growing percentage of people are not spending money on new consumer products, or taking vacations, or leaving money in the bank in the form of IRAs or money market funds or anything else.

And when an increasing amount of a nation’s wealth is hoarded by a relative handful of the mega-rich, those hoarded dollars are not necessarily ever going to be spent within the home country. They could be spent elsewhere, or just kept hoarded. So this sort of situation naturally leads to fewer and fewer dollars in circulation within the country in question. By extension this leads to fewer and fewer jobs as demand drops for goods and services fewer people can afford. And I don’t care if you call that Keynesianism for something else. It makes plain sense, and I’ve ever heard a persuasive argument against it.

Now Standard & Poor’s has issued a report called “How Increasing Inequality is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, and Possible Ways to Change the Tide.” To which I say, duh.

Neil Irwin writes,

I asked Beth Ann Bovino, the chief U.S. economist at S.&P., why she and her colleagues took on this topic. “We spend a lot of time trying to think about what’s the economic outlook and what to expect ahead,” she said. “What disturbs me about this recovery — which has been the weakest in 50 years — is how feeble it has been, and we’ve been asking what are the reasons behind it.” She added: “One of the reasons that could explain this pace of very slow growth is higher income inequality. And that also might explain what happened that led up to the great recession.”

“From my research and some of the analysis I saw from others, when you have extreme levels of inequality, it can hurt the economy,” she said.

Because the affluent tend to save more of what they earn rather than spend it, as more and more of the nation’s income goes to people at the top income brackets, there isn’t enough demand for goods and services to maintain strong growth, and attempts to bridge that gap with debt feed a boom-bust cycle of crises, the report argues. High inequality can feed on itself, as the wealthy use their resources to influence the political system toward policies that help maintain that advantage, like low tax rates on high incomes and low estate taxes, and underinvestment in education and infrastructure.

Duh, S&P. I’m glad you came out and said this, but it’s rather pathetic that it needs to be said. As for the hoarding mega-rich, there’s an old fable about a goose and golden eggs they might want to review and reflect upon. I would add that there is nothing inherently “pro-business” in government policies that favor the wealthy. In the long run, encouraging inequality is anti-business.

See also “U.S. policymakers gird for rash of corporate expatriations.”

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